Poverty & Wealth

Fashioning Justice for Bangladesh

AP Images/Ismail Ferdous

After two major strikes, in 1909 and 1910, and the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911, organizers rode the wave of worker militancy and public outrage to increase union membership of New York’s garment factories. With the period of full employment during World War I, unionization in the garment trades peaked at 129,000, despite having little protection from government. But in the 1920s, the industry managed to weaken the unions with a technique identical to the one used by the big fashion brands today. Instead of producing in their own factories, they contracted with “jobbers” and subcontractors, both to disperse the workforce and to diffuse responsibility for the appalling conditions. The economic collapse of the Great Depression reduced union membership even further.

L.A. Story

The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy: a new model for American liberalism?

flickr/AlphaProject

Take a left as you exit the Long Beach Airport, and you’ll pass three acres of greenery named “Rosie the Riveter Park.” The park stands at the southeast corner of what had once been the mammoth Douglas Aircraft factory, where DC-3s, -4s, -5s, all the way up to -10s, were once manufactured, and where, during World War II, 43,000 workers, half of them women, built the B-17 bombers and C-47 transports that flew missions over Europe and the Pacific.

World War II and then the Cold War remade Long Beach. Federal dollars funded the Douglas factory, a new naval shipyard, and numerous defense firms. An entire city—the working-class community of Lakewood, which borders Long Beach on the north—was built to house the sudden influx of defense workers. Long Beach became and remains the second-largest city in Los Angeles County.

The new jobs paid well; powerful unions represented the workers in the factories and on the docks. Military spending, though, began to decline after the Vietnam War, and when the Cold War ended, Long Beach and the broader Los Angeles economy took a hit from which neither has recovered. The naval shipyard closed in 1997. Douglas, Lockheed, and North American Aviation—the aircraft manufacturers that had been the region’s largest private-sector employers—downsized and eventually shuttered almost all their Southern California plants.

False Concerns for the Poor

(Flickr/Mark Sedella)

Fast food workers have been organizing across the country for months now, and last week a series of spectacular coordinated strikes generated a deluge of media coverage. As you'd expect, the right-wing media and pundit class came out swinging against the workers with their usual mix of hateful trashing and concern trolling.

Part-Time America

AP Images/Matt Slocum

Of the 963,000 jobs created in the past six months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Household Surveys, 936,000 of them are part-time. That doesn’t mean that just 27,000 of the people hired on to new jobs got full-time work. The total for part-time jobs includes both newly created jobs and formerly full-time gigs that were cut-back to part-time, and the BLS doesn’t pose the questions that would enable it to quantify these two kinds of new part-time jobs. But factoring in both kinds, we do know that the net number of full-time jobs in America has risen by just 27,000 since the end of January.

The Long Road to a Decent Economy

AP Images/Carolyn Kaster

To underscore a weeklong initiative by President Obama on behalf of rebuilding the middle class, the latest figures on GDP growth, released Thursday, and on job growth, made public Friday, show just how far from a healthy middle class economy we are.

The Least We Could Pay

AP Photo/Jim Mone, File

In his campaign to drum up public support for a post-recess budget deal with Congress, President Barack Obama has repeated a call he first made in his 2013 State of the Union speech: an increase in the federal minimum wage. This past January, he called for a $9 minimum wage, up from the $7.25 rate that has remained unchanged the past four years. This week, at an Amazon packaging facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he said: “[B]ecause no one who works full-time in America should have to live in poverty, I will keep making the case that we need to raise a minimum wage that in real terms is lower than it was when Ronald Reagan took office. That means more money in consumers’ pockets, and more business for companies like Amazon.”

A $9 federal minimum wage is higher than any current state’s minimum wage except Washington’s.

Strikes, Alliances, and Survival

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Fast-food workers in seven cities are set to walk off their jobs today in one-day actions, escalating what is quickly becoming a nationwide effort to win pay hikes in one of America’s premier poverty-wage industries. Backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the campaign is succeeding in publicizing the plight of low-wage workers in a growing number of states and cities.

The Depressing Picture of Economic Mobility in America

Today's New York Times has a big article by David Leonhardt on a new study of income mobility with a bunch of interesting findings, the core of which is that, especially for middle-class and poor people, where you live matters tremendously to your chances of improving your economic station. Here's an excerpt:

What Tom Friedman Doesn’t Understand About the Economy, Part 72

AP Images/Charles Dharapak

“Average is over,” New York Times columnist Tom Friedman likes to proclaim, and in at least one particular, he’s right. Friedman no longer writes average columns. With each passing week, his efforts become steadily more moronic.

His latest, in Sunday’s paper, is entitled “Welcome to the Sharing Economy,” and in it, Friedman mistakes economic marginality and desperation for innovation and opportunity. The subject of this particular essay is Airbnb, a website where travelers go to rent bedrooms in other people’s homes.

The Great Detroit Betrayal

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Detroit has filed for bankruptcy. Most of the spot-news coverage has focused on the immediate fiscal crisis of the city, but the immediate fiscal crisis really isn’t what got the city into such deep trouble. Certainly, Detroit’s contracts with its employees and its debts to its retirees don’t really explain anything about how and why this once-great city has come to such grief. Those contracts and retirement benefits are par for the course for major American cities—certainly, no more generous than those in cities of comparable size.

Any remotely accurate autopsy of the city will find that the cancer that killed Detroit was the decline of the American auto industry.

Rhode Island’s Small Victory

AP Photo/Susan E. Bouchard, File

When Governor Lincoln Chaffee signed the Temporary Care Giver’s Insurance law last week, Rhode Island became the third state—along with California and New Jersey—to grant paid time off to care for a sick loved one or a new baby.

Rhode Island’s law, which goes into effect in 2014, will not only provide most workers with up to four weeks off with about two-thirds of their salaries (up to $752 a week), it will protect employees from being fired and losing their health insurance while they’re out.

The Food Stamp-Out

House Republicans’ newest tactic to dilute one of the most successful social welfare programs in the country’s history. 

AP Images/Michael Stravato

Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted to pass a farm bill—a bill that influences everything from your lovely weekend farmers market to the subsidies that have led every food in America to be made from corn—without what is normally its biggest component: nutrition programs, including food stamps. It introduces a new wrinkle into a two-year fight over the farm bill, a sleepy piece of legislation that must be passed every five years and is normally uncontroversial. Senate leadership, which passed a farm bill earlier in June, has said it won’t pass one without the food stamp portion. Senator Debbie Stabenow, the chair of the Senate agricultural committee, released a statement with a reminder of that yesterday: “The bill passed by the House today is not a real Farm Bill and is an insult to rural America, which is why it’s strongly opposed by more than 500 farm, food and conservation groups.”

Affirmative Action's Ominous Future

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

One thing the three most anticipated cases of the recently completed Supreme Court term have in common is the questions they didn't answer. Hollingsworth v. Perry, by ducking the question on jurisdictional grounds, left the constitutional status of state bans on same-sex marriage an open question. Shelby County v. Holder theoretically permitted Congress to update the preclearance formula to put the teeth back into the Voting Rights Act. However, the Court gave lower courts future Supreme Courts no useful guideline for how Congress could proceed. (Admittedly, the answer for how Congress can constitutionally proceed, at least for the Roberts Court, is almost certainly "it can't.") But the term's clearest passing of the buck was the decision in the potentially major affirmative-action case, UT Austin v. Fisher. While many people (including me) expected the Court to use the case as a vehicle to declare virtually all affirmative action in public higher education unconstitutional, after eight long months the Court issued a brief opinion that merely sent the issue back to the lower courts without a definitive ruling. What then, does Fisher suggest about the future of affirmative action?

The Part-Timer Problem

The Obama Administration’s decision to delay for a year the penalty that employers (in firms of 50 or more employees) must pay if they don’t provide health insurance to their workers shines a light on a problem that may be even more profound than getting health coverage for every American: that is, the decline of the American job.

The employer mandate was designed for an economy in which American workers were employed in what had been normal jobs. In firms of 50 or more, all workers who put in at least 30 hours a week were either to receive coverage from the firm or else the firm would have to pay the government a $2,000 yearly penalty.

Murky Language Puts Homes Underwater

Banks around the country are exploiting a loophole to foreclose on homes that shouldn't be in the crosshairs. 

AP Images/Don Ryan

Revelations from Bank of America whistleblowers show widespread and ongoing abuse of homeowners seeking loan modifications to avoid foreclosure. Customer service representatives were told to lie about pending modifications and were given bonuses for pushing homeowners into default. The allegations mirror continued complaints about “dual tracking,” where mortgage servicers pursue foreclosure while deciding whether or not to grant a loan modification. And yet, servicers at the five biggest banks were required to pay $25 billion in fines and agree to dozens of new guidelines to curb these abuses as part of last year’s National Mortgage Settlement. While the banks argue that they have fixed any outstanding problems, a recent report from the settlement’s oversight monitor, Joseph Smith, showed continuing violations of settlement terms in several key areas, though not to the degree that housing advocates claim.

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